Korean last names highlight a culture with deep familial roots. Korean surnames often reflect personal characteristics or values, occupations, and places families lived, as well as natural earthly elements. Korean last names have a specific structure to them. People often have names that are three syllables long, with the surname coming before the remainder of the name. This particular name trait further emphasizes a nation of people who place family above all.
Popular Korean Last Names
Korea has fifty million residents. That number would typically mean tons of last names. Interestingly, about half of Korean people have the last names Kim, Lee, and Park. There are a few more popular names that rank with the majority.
- Ahn - Means "tranquility"
- Baek - Means the color "white"
- Bak - Means "gourd"
- Cho - Stems from the ancient city in Shanxi province. Means "second" or "candle"
- Choi - Means "one who governs over land near mountains"
- Jeong - Means "broad concept of positive emotions"
- Jung - Stems from the first chief in the six kingdoms
- Kang - Means "strong as the river"
- Kim - Most notable Korean surname. Comes from the name "Jin," which refers to gold
- Lee - Second most popular surname in Korea. Means "plum"
- Man - Means "only" or "just"
- Park - Variation of "Bak," means "simple" or "unadorned"
- Yoon - Means "eldest"
Korean Surnames Stemming from Nature and Topographic Places
Many Korean last names stem from places or nature. These last names owe their existence to the natural world.
- Chay - Means "brushwood"
- Chi - Means "branch" or "limb"
- Chun - Means "field"
- Gyeon - Means "capital city" or "scenery"
- Ha - Means "summer"
- Hak - Means "crane"
- Im - Means "forest"
- Ki - Means "tree wood"
- Ko - Refers to descendants of the Korean peninsula or Ko dynasty
- Kwock - Means "surrounding area" or "city walls"
- Ma - Originated in China, means "horse"
- Mae - Means "falcon"
- Mun - Derived from 'Wen,' means "moon"
- Nahm - Means "south"
- No - Means "wilderness"
- Noe - Means "thunder"
- Ok - Means "oaktree" or "jade"
- Pae - Means "pear"
- Pan - Means "'water in which rice has been rinsed"
- Pung - Means "wind"
- Ryu - Means "willow tree"
- Seok - Means "stone" or "tin"
- Suk - Means "stone"
- Ye - Means "leaf"
- Yun - Means "cloud"
Korean Monikers That Reflect Occupations
Many last names found around the world came to be due to the occupations of ancestors. These Korean last names give a glimpse into the daily doings of people long ago.
- Chong - Means "bow-maker"
- Hahm - Means "seller of weighing scales"
- Han - Means "country" and "leader"
- Jang - Means "archer"
- Yun - Means "governor"
Last Names With Interesting Meanings
Some last names have interesting backstories behind them. These monikers have meanings that many might find surprising.
- An - Means "interior"
- Bang - Means "room"
- Bin - Means "empty" or "void"
- Cha - Means "chariot"
- Dang- Means "party" or "sugar"
- Geun - Means "axe"
- Gu - Means "phrase"
- Gwan - Means "pipe" or "tube"
- In - Means "India" or "stamp"
- Ju - Means "circumference"
- Jue - Means "cinnabar"
- Mok - Means "neck"
- Roh - Means "musical note"
- Sa - Means "four"
- Sun - Means "net" or "grandchild"
- Sim - Means "sink"
- To - Means "dipper" or "unit of measure"
Korean Surnames That Reflect Characteristics and Personality Traits
Last names often reflect personal characteristics and physical and personality traits. These Korean last names stand for qualities anyone would want to be affiliated with.
- Cheong - Means "gentle"
- Han - Means "leader"
- Heo - Means "to advocate"
- Ho - Means "brave" or "fierce"
- Hyun - Means mysterious"
- Jee - Means "will" or "ambition"
- Jun - Means "talented" or "handsome"
- Min - Was a first name and later a surname. Means "clever" or "smart"
- Myung - Means "brilliant"
- Quon - Means "power" or "authority"
- Seo - Means "calm" or "poised"
- Seong - Means "to accomplish"
- So - Means "small" or "young"
- Yang - Means "positive"
Rare Korean Last Names
Some Koreans have rare last names. These famous Koreans are well known throughout the world, but their last names aren't nearly as popular as the people who hold them.
- Boo - Korean singer/songwriter BOO Seungkwan hails from Jeju Island. His last name is as rare as his birthplace. Only about 10,000 Koreans sport the surname.
- Chun - Means "spring." Common in Japan, but not in Korea. In 2000, only 77 people held this last name that originated in the city of Namyang in Gyeonggi Province.
- Dong - Only about 5,000 people in Korea have the last name, Dong. Boy bander Dong Young Bae, who goes by Taeyang, is literally one in a million.
- Gae - Means "dog." In 2000, only about 86 Koreans had this rare last name.
- Jeup - Originated in North Korea. It was a name given to Koreans who married Japanese partners.
- Kan - Pop singer, Kan Mi Yeon, is well known in the musical circuit for her part in the female pop band, Baby VOX. Her voice isn't the only thing that gets her attention from the masses. Her unique last name, held by about 1,000 Koreans, also draws plenty of attention.
- Ong - Ong Seong Woo is a well-known celebrity of Korean descent, but his last name is less recognized. About 1,000 people in Korea have this last name.
- Tan - Originated in the city of Haeju, Hwanghae Province, North Korea, and was first discovered in the 1930s. This name is widely heard in China, but is not common to Koreans.
- Uh - Actor Ryu Soo Young was born with the moniker Uh Nam Sun. He changed his name partly to aid his career. Maybe he thought his rare last name, given to about 18,000 Koreans, would not work in his favor.
- Ya - Originated in the Gyeonggi Province and the city of Gaesong in North Korea. The meaning of this name is the equivalent to the English term, "Hey!" in 2000, only 180 Koreans had this last name.
Learning About a Last Name
One can learn so much about personal culture and family heritage simply by dissecting their last name. Your surname can tell you where your ancestors came from, what they did for a living, and even what traits were attributed to them long ago. Learning about your last name's origin and meaning is an excellent place to start if you are on a journey to discover your roots.